The tenth annual installment of Hockey Day Minnesota kicks off with two high school teams looking to turn their seasons around.
The 10 a.m. game pits Duluth Denfeld against Eveleth-Gilbert- teams who have recently struggled to reliably find the win column but have no shortage of talent, effort and heart.
Denfeld lost a significant number of core players last year, leaving this year’s squad in a mindset of rebuilding.
Winger Kadin Ferguson is one of the players who has stepped up his production, earning the nickname “Energizer Bunny” for playing with a nearly worrying abundance of speed and ferocity.
Coach Kevin Smalley makes the most of this, employing him on both the Hunters’ power play and penalty-killing units. The senior leads the team in goals and assists, despite wearing the stiff shot-altering brace that protects a still-broken hand, injured earlier in the season.
Hunters goaltender River Alander is a promising college prospect, showing composure and athleticism between the pipes and a desire to cultivate youth hockey as a way to give back.
“ […] Skating with the younger players, mites and squirts, who are just starting off and rink ratting with them is a blast,” Alander said. “Seeing those kids get excited to skate with me […] is a feeling I could never get by just playing hockey, it comes from being able to share the love of the game with a younger generation, give back and pay it forward.”
Alander is going to be difficult to replace, but perhaps college won’t take him too far: he lists the University of Minnesota Duluth as his university of choice in an interview with the Duluth News Tribune.
Across the ice, Eveleth-Gilbert forwards Nick Przybylsky and Cody Hendrickson have produced much of the Golden Bears’ offense this season: Przybylsky totaling 22 goals and 23 assists thus far, and Hendrickson close behind with 20 and 18.
Defenseman Aaron Koivunen has 20 assists, and rounds out the top three points leaders on the team. The deceptively compact junior plays bigger than his size, averaging a point per game and was named to the all-area team last year.
Aside from trying to notch another win, Coach Jeff Torrel is more excited about the opportunity than anything, telling WDIO, “When the announcement came that we were going to be a part of it - it was exciting […] not only for the boys, but also for the community […] Hockey Day in Minnesota is such a wonderful thing and such a big part of the state that we are really appreciative and happy to be part of it.”
This game christens a day designed to honor the history of hockey in Minnesota, set against the dramatic backdrop of Duluth’s Bayfront Park and aerial lift bridge.
Forecasts call for cool and cooperative conditions, but nearby Heritage Center is standing by in case of inclement weather.
It’s a perfect setting for two teams on the upswing, looking for a little redemption in this, the great State of Hockey.